It’s said that gratitude opens the window to the Soul, but did you know that it also stimulates the Vagus Nerve? And the vagus nerve has a crucial part to play in the state of our mental and physical health. The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that extends from the brainstem to various organs in the body, including the heart, lungs, digestive organs, and more.

The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) corresponds to our flight and fight response stimulating the production of adrenaline and cortisol. In short bursts these hormones have anti-inflammatory benefits. However, if the SNS dominates, giving rise to fear, anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia, the high and consistent levels of adrenaline and cortisol can cause significant inflammation in the body and weaken the immune system.

The job of the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS) on the other hand is to relax and rest the body and its activities and, in doing so, also reduce inflammation. This is where the vagus nerve comes into play as it is a major component of the PSNS, regulating vital functions such as heart rate, respiration, digestion, immune response and inflammation. It also helps the body return to a state of rest and relaxation after experiencing stress or exertion.

We need to stimulate the vagus nerve in order to activate the PSNS and there are some quick and easy techniques to do this. These are particularly useful when tension and anxiety is high but most of them are also simple daily practices to help maintain calm and balance. Some of them we do quite naturally without even realising the benefits they’re having.

10 Ways to Stimulate the Vagus Nerve

  1. Mindful breath, exhaling for longer than inhaling
  2. Smiling and laughter
  3. Hugging
  4. Connecting with loved ones
  5. Gratitude
  6. Loving awareness in the heart
  7. Meditation and yoga
  8. Music and singing or chanting
  9. Reiki
  10. Cold water immersion